I had a revelation on the road to Armageddon. As I headed up north from
Jerusalem for a short break last week, at the point when I passed the road sign
to the archeological site at Megiddo, the thought popped into my mind that the
words for freedom and vacation in Hebrew are the same: hofesh.
farther north I traveled, the more in the holiday mood I became. Thus, by the
time I arrived at Kfar Blum’s Pastoral Hotel, on the kibbutz about a 15-minute
drive from Kiryat Shmona, I was more than ready to relax and enjoy
And I did both during the three-day trip, but I also found myself
mixing extreme pleasure with fear – until they were at points
The 192-room hotel made a good impression from the start.
The check-in was fast, efficient and pleasant. The change of pace, coming from
one of the most intense cities in the world, was immediate. True to its name,
the Pastoral Hotel is set in the sprawling green kibbutz grounds, a tranquil
As my son and I stepped out of the reception area on the way to
our room, the first thing we saw – and smelled – was a herb garden with signs
inviting the guests to pick what they needed.
We were non-paying guests
of the hotel, invited to try out the new 45-room boutique wing, which has the
Tourism Ministry’s highest rating. Each of the boutique rooms is named after a
filmmaker whose picture and biography adorns the wall, in our case: Alfred
Hitchcock. My nearly 12-year-old son noted that there was something slightly
unnerving about going to take a shower with Hitchcock’s eyes seemingly following
But the huge bathroom was “to die for,” something out of the movies.
It held the most enormous freestanding classic-style bath I have ever seen and a
separate, elliptical-shaped, spacious shower unit. The greatest danger became
the temptation to spend hours in the bath without getting to see what other
comforts were available.
The room – large, country-style and squeaky
clean – had French doors leading out to its own patio area, with an incredible
view of the mountains. It was the perfect place to sip a cup of coffee or glass
of fresh herbal tea (the room was equipped with a coffeemaker as well as a
selection of teas, to which you could add whatever you had picked).
hotel’s various sections are separated by beautifully maintained lawns and
graced with bright yellow mimosa trees, offering what seemed to be a combination
of a private flowery sun and a personal shaded area. Birds, many belonging to
species that bring ornithologists flocking to the area – rather than the sort
Hitchcock relied upon to evoke horror – also add to the pleasant rural
Since I wasn’t paying, I wanted to find out what the other
guests thought. The hotel was full but didn’t feel crowded. The guests ranged
from a group of teachers and hi-tech employees, to visitors who had come for the
annual Kfar Blum music festival, to a Canadian Maccabiah participant who was
taking his family to see more of the country after he’d finished competing, to
American tourists and a large number of French-speakers.
One of the
Canadian guests said she had feared the rooms might be motel-like, “until I
stepped inside.” All the guests I spoke to reported being made to feel pampered
Helping me resist the temptation to simply relax in the bath
(or rush to the well-appointed spa) for the rest of the day was my discovery of
the Olympic-size pool, set against the backdrop of imposing mountains, a few
minutes walk from my room.
Having worked up that special appetite that
comes with being at the pool on vacation, we headed for the hotel restaurant for
supper – plentiful, delicious kosher food to suit a range of tastes. The various
evening entertainment options also aimed to appeal to different age ranges and
types: a children’s music show, South American songs and, a hit with me and my
son, a reptile exhibition.
Not every night brings with it the chance of
carrying a Burmese python wrapped around your neck or studying a blue-tongued
lizard close up.
BUT THE real thrills were to begin the next
Kfar Blum’s name has become virtually synonymous with its
kayaking and rafting facilities, also a short walk from our room.
Jordan River of the spirituals is deep and wide. In real life it is narrow and
shallow, but is green and cool and has a special feel to it. I didn’t sing
spirituals, but I said a silent prayer of thanks as our “kayak” (actually more
like a rubber dinghy) floated down the river – sometimes needing only little
help from us, once needing a push from other rafters as we got caught in the
dense foliage along the river banks. The closer we got to the mini-waterfall,
the less silent and more heartfelt my prayers. Nonetheless, the rapid descent
Back on dry land, I felt I had had my particular dose
of danger for the day, but my son was more than happy to try out another popular
attraction at the site – the Omega zipline that zooms down from a tower on the
river bank right into the Jordan’s waters.
The facilities were crowded
but well-run, and the staff had a reassuring, professional approach. There are
changing rooms and individual lockers for bags and valuables. Keep in mind that
whatever goes in the kayaks is going to get wet, including all clothing from the
waist down. A land-based photographer snaps the boats as they go over the rocky
rapid drop, and the photos can be purchased a few minutes after you finish the
course. Taking phones or cameras on the boats is not recommended.
are several other options at the site – archery, artificial rock climbing and
rope slides among them – but they couldn’t compete with the rafting and Omega as
far as my son and I were concerned.
Even with special deals, the
attractions can be expensive for larger families. My advice: Take a deep breath,
remember you’re on vacation, and don’t miss out on the experience.
SECOND full day of our trip was more extreme than the first, dedicated to a
visit to the nearby Manara Cliff, on Route 90 between Rosh Pina and Kiryat
Shmona, close to the Lebanese border. Celebrating its 15th anniversary, the
site, run by Kibbutz Manara, is offering several attractions for those who like
living on the edge – or at least visiting.
Built at three separate
levels, the only form of transportation between the different stages is Israel’s
longest cable car route at 1,940 meters.
There was a slightly European
feel to the ascent, suspended above the pine woods. At the top level, the hills
were alive with the sound of music – but it was an Israeli experience indeed.
Musician Shlomo Mor from Pardess Hanna was taking a break from his regular gigs
and recording work to offer (free) guided tours of the woods atop the Naftali
Mountains, stopping now and again for an explanation and a song.
Israel can you find yourself with a group of strangers learning about the flora
and fauna and singing Naomi Shemer’s Shirat Ha’asavim (Song of the Grasses),
based on the words by Rabbi Nahman of Breslov: “You should know That each and
every wild grass Has its own special poem And from the poem of the wild grasses
The tune of the shepherd is made.”
Incidentally, although I have often
come across protected species of flowers and animals, this was the first time I
was looking out for a protected rock – unprepossessing stone orbs that are
bursting with quartz crystals on the inside, known in Hebrew as avatiah Eliyahu,
Personally, I could have spent much longer wandering
quietly among the wonders of nature, looking across to the Hermon and Golan
Heights with the Hula Valley spread out below and Kiryat Shmona looking like a
tiny model village, but my son was eager for something more
The middle section at Manara offers a 200-meter Omega
zipline from the steep cliff, rappelling and Game of Thrones-style archery. At
the lowest level, there’s bungee jumping, trampolines and the Alpine
roller-coaster that my son had set his eyes and heart on.
As someone who
is scared of heights and firmly believes that speed kills, my heart was beating
fast and my mouth felt dry even as we approached the coaster cars. What followed
was an almost out-of-body experience. As if I was in a Hitchcock movie, I heard
someone screaming with fear but was only vaguely aware it was me. Careening
around corners on the country’s steepest cliff seemed very out of character. But
I suppose that is part of what vacations are for – doing things you wouldn’t
Having been warned that stopping, or even slowing down, is
dangerous, I found myself strapped in behind my son, putting all my strength
into holding the gear stick down and fighting the natural urge to take the
curves at a more reasonable pace.
Far from the songs and music I had so
enjoyed at the top level, here the air was full of the order to “Push, push” and
the sounds of women and children screaming, as if we were collectively going
through some kind of rebirth. And perhaps we were, in a way.
In my case,
at least, I had not only gone way beyond my comfort zone, I had done it at top
All good things, of course, come to an end, and summer getaways
seem to come to an end more quickly than most breaks.
There are many
other places and attractions worth seeing in the area (some of my favorites
include the Hula, Tel Dan and Gamla nature reserves). Families with younger
children enjoy the dairy farms and petting zoos. Others recommend jeep rides and
cycling routes (there’s also extreme bike riding at Manara Cliff for those who
love living more dangerously than I do).
Arriving back home in Jerusalem,
I unpacked our bags and realized that freedom comes at a price – a load of dirty
washing. I shoved it into the laundry basket and decided to deal with it the
Something about the northern trip had been very liberating,
and I didn’t want to lose that holiday feeling just yet. The writer was a
guest of Kfar Blum Pastoral Hotel.